Saturday, July 05, 2008

June 27, 2008: London

On Friday morning we had intended to get going early and breakfast at the Borough Market. However, events conspired against us. First, we discovered that on Fridays the markets don't open until noon. No problem; instead we shared a still-warm baguette breakfast (fresh from the bakery, smothered in butter and Vegemite) with Emily and Sam, also savouring a final chat before we moved on. Plan B was to stop by the Tate Modern before lunching at the market. Heavy traffic and subway construction ensured that instead we would spend almost 2 hours travelling little more than 3 kilometres. I surprised both of us by feeling neither anxiety nor annoyance - truly, I'd shaken off my recent work pressures and embraced the holiday!

So it was straight to the markets for browsing and grazing. The Borough Markets are kind of posh, from the produce to the small goods, cakes, pies and olives - everything is organic or free-range or biodynamic and often comes with a slick logo. It's difficult to imagine that I'd embrace such a market for my regular shopping but it was ideal for our holidaying purposes.

I stopped almost immediately for some dried fruit and nuts to pack away for later.

Michael was similarly drawn to the olives.

Out first on-the-spot eat was from this vege burger stand - we chose the heavenly haloumi patty, which was as full of juicy shredded veges as it was cheese.

Michael was as shocked as you must be that I didn't buy chocolate.

I wished that I could take some of the produce home to a kitchen to prepare for myself, especially the asparagus and wide array of wild mushrooms.

Some nearby organic ice cream served as a worthy distraction - orange and mascarpone for me, strawberry for Michael.

There was a little rain and so we made our way to the tube. Our next stop was Hampstead, a fancy part of town that's apparently rather good for celebrity spotting. However, we were actually there for a wander around Hampstead Heath. It's a large and lovely park, with a slight elevation that's sufficient to offer views across the very flat city. If anyone famous or successful was walking their dog, we didn't notice.

Naturally our market snacks had their moment in the sun, too.

These salt and pepper cashews were nice, but not nearly as nice as the recipe that is now known as cashew crack

I had to have these razcherries from the moment I saw them - I remembered Buttons recommending them. I think I involuntarily swore the first moment I tasted one, they are so darn good. Like those raspberry jube lollies but actually fruit! How can such a wondrous thing exist? How are they bred? What does a fresh one look like? Where can I get some more right NOW?!

And there was fresh fruit too - nashi pears and nectarines.

Later on our walk Michael broke out the olives, which were packed with parsley, tarragon, garlic and lemon juice. The cheese is unpasteurised and therefore illegal in Australia. I was indifferent to his savoury feast and ate more razcherries.

Back in Hampstead we stopped at the Holly Bush, a cute pub tucked away and recommended by Emily.

The next couple of hours passed without anything photo-worthy happening. We returned to the subway and travelled to Hammersmith, wandering along the Thames a while. We needed to build some anticipation and appetite for dinner. We were returning to what was the highlight of our last visit to London - the Gate Vegetarian Restaurant. Even better, we were meeting Krusty and Jason there! They were our regular dining companions in our first 6 months of living in Melbourne, introducing us to the likes of Polly, the Vegie Bar and Shakahari. Since then they've been living and working in Colchester, the next stop on our UK tour.

The Gate is pricey, though it may simply be the exchange rate that puts it beyond Shakahari for us. It offers a similar level of carefully composed meals with a seasonal rotation in a sophisticated but not over-the-top environment.

Usually only one or two items will jump out at me from a list of starters (i.e. whatever's deep fried) but here I was really stumped - how could I pick between, say, the courgette flower and the three onion tart? What about the haloumi kibi or the Indo-Iraqi potato cake? We were all able to sample most of the starter menu when we agreed to share a large mezze platter. Clockwise from the top, we had:
  • Caesar salad, with capers, olives, garlic croutons, avocado and cherry tomatoes, parmesan and a Caesar dressing;
  • broadbean falafel with babaganoush, red schoog, pickled vegetables and pita bread;
  • a mustard seed potato cake filled with Indian spiced vegetables, pan-fried and served with mango yoghurt and a sweet and sour tamarind sauce;
  • leeks and shallots baked with creme fraiche in a parmesan pastry, topped with caramelised red onions and basil oil;
  • char-grilled haloumi in a tikka marinade skewered with red onions, capsicum and zucchini, served with a pomegranate, herb and cous-cous salad; and
  • a salad of caramelised quince, roasted walnuts and crumbled stilton tossed with mixed salad leaves in a walnut vinigarette.
Wow. If you're after evidence of the strength of our friendship with Krusty and Jason, it's that we all faithfully restricted ourselves to a quarter of each item before rotating the plate and continuing. But it was hard.

The other three were all taken by the tortillas for their main course. The wheat tortillas are filled with sweet potato, sweet corn, goat's cheese, coriander and chilli, then served with guacamole, sour cream and a black bean and red capsicum salsa.

In a bid to be different, Michael changed his order to the risotto, with roasted butternut squash, dolcelatte and thyme, finished with walnuts and fresh parmesan.

I reckon I got the best deal of the lot. This is the Rotolo - mushroom duxelles and goat's cheese rolled in a thyme-infused potato, served on a bed of French beans with a white wine, cream and cep reduction, topped with deep-fried leeks. Rich French food is not beyond the grasp of the vegetarian (nor the vegan, by the looks of this!). I will dream about that sauce for years to come, I'm sure of it.

For dessert, we had the opportunity to share and sample again with the mezze of desserts. Sadly the light was waning and my photograph doesn't do this justice. Hopefully you can make out (clockwise from top):
  • hazelnut creme brulee,
  • pressed chocolate and chestnut torte,
  • cappuccino and vanilla cheesecake
  • rhubarb, pear and ginger crumble (centre), and
  • apple pie.
I have never really 'got' creme brulee, but dang, now I do. With so much rich food in our stomachs, I don't know how we managed to reduce it to this:

But we did.


  1. Cindy, what exactly are razcherries? By your description, I want some already. I just followed your link about Button recommending it. Oasis Bakery is right near my work place. Woohoo. I'm going there on Monday to get me some razcherries.

    The food at The Gate does look good. And creme brulee is my favourite (well one of my favourite, I like so many) desserts. The best creme brulee I've tried so far is at Rockpool. They make theirs with prune soaked in Armagnac placed at the bottom of the brulee. Delicious.

    Was this meal at The Gate the best meal you had in England? What exactly does pricey mean? How many pounds are we talking?

  2. Hey guys,

    Amazing pictures! I'm suffering serious nostalgia and trip-envy. Boo-hoo.

    I have to say, that meal at the gate looks amazing! I rarely see examples of haute-veggie-cuisine, thank-you for sharing.

    xox Sarah

  3. The borough markets and razcherries look amazing - and I loved reading about all the wonderful food at the gate but unlike your melbourne reviews I wont kid myself that I will get there some day soon :-)

  4. Waaaah! I want to come and eat pie at the Borough markets and wander around London in european summer. Hope youse are having a kick ass time. Grammar provoked by recent trip home:)

  5. Thanh, it would appear that razcherries are raspberry/cherry hybrids - never seen a fresh one, but would love to try them! Main courses at the Gate are about £13, so it's not obscenely expensive - just a special night out. It was probably the best meal we had in England, though I had one in Scotland last night that was rather special, too!

    More generally, food is quite expensive. Though we're paying a little over AU$2 per £1, measuring value-for-money is more like comparing AU$1.50 per £1. For example, an £8 meal is costing me AU$16-17, yet what I get is generally what I'd expect to pay only AU$12 for in Melbourne.

    Sarah, we've had a few great higher-end vego meals here! Just about time to stop with the rich food, though, methinks. :-)

    Johanna, lovely as the Gate is, it's probably not quite worth the airfare alone. :-)

    Hiya Jo-Lyn! Surely strutting the streets of T-ville fed the travel bug?! If it's any consolation, breakfast in Brunswick/Fitzroy is better than anything we've encountered here.